GSA recently released a Q&A in anticipation of the first two Polaris Requests for Proposals (RFPs). GSA anticipates the RFPs for Small Businesses and Women-Owned Small Businesses will be released soon, while those for the Historically Underutilized Business Zones Small Business (HUBZone) and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) pools will be released between July 1, 2022, and September 30, 2022. Some of the answers in the Q&A clarify what offerors should expect, while others continue to create ambiguity. In this client alert, we review the major changes presented in the Q&A and offer our insight into their impact on small businesses seeking work on Polaris.

Mentor-Protégé Relationships. The Q&A removes a restriction that used to limit a Mentor to providing three examples of the total primary relevant experience projects. Now there are no restrictions on the amount of relevant experience projects that a Mentor can provide. Also, the Q&A allows federal contracts without Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS) records to count toward relevant experience requirements, as long as proper validating information is provided. GSA will announce the specifics of these proper validating procedures later.

This creates a significant change for offerors submitting proposals as Mentor-Protégé Joint Ventures (MPJVs). The removal of this restriction allows small business protégés to competitively bid in all task areas as long as their mentor has relevant experience. At the same time, this change could harm small businesses planning to work with multiple other small businesses, especially those with less experience than large mentors or those whose experience is on much smaller contracts than the large mentors. It will certainly make it more difficult for individual small businesses to win a seat on the Polaris contract.

This issue is difficult because SBA does not want to harm other small business teaming relationships as it encourages small businesses to grow by forming Mentor-Protégé relationships. Specifically, SBA wants to incentivize firms to form JVs to ensure that larger contracts and task orders are still set aside for small businesses. This will increase the size and complexity of projects awarded to small businesses and grow the nation’s industrial base, without needing to rely solely on large businesses. One can assume as well that SBA does not wish to simply shut out small business prime contractors that may want to go it alone or are unable to find mentors among the major multi-hundred-million or billion-dollar prime contractors. Unfortunately, such small business prime contractors will find it difficult to secure the same number of points under these “self-scoring” RFPs that continue to gain popularity. 

Thus, while there are only a limited number of very large mentors, we hope that there is room left for non-MPJVs or teams to secure a seat on Polaris because the anticipated number of awards is high. SBA may have to deal with this difficult matter in future regulations. For now, however, it is impossible to know what score is necessary to secure a Polaris contract. We can only believe that SBA and GSA wish for the small business awardees to come from a broad swath of small business teams on the vehicle.

Organizational Risk Assessment. The Q&A changes the term “business arrangement” to include MPJVs and their proposed subcontractors. The allowable “business arrangements” that can be used to secure points under the Organization Risk factor now include those in which members of the proposed JV worked together previously as long as all members performed on a contract or order as a prime-subcontractor team or all members performed on an order as a GSA Contractor Team Arrangement. Additionally, Past Performance Rating Forms (PPRF) for subcontractors need only be completed by a corporate officer or official of the prime contractor rather than by a contracting officer.

This broadening of “business arrangement” substantially increases the number of ways a contractor can achieve a higher score under the Operational Risk Arrangement factor. There is no “relevancy” aspect to the assessment, so there is no requirement that prime/sub teams or JVs have worked together on contracts of similar size or scope, only that they have worked together in some capacity. This should enable many more teams to achieve higher scores because they can now use past efforts, even if they were small endeavors. This seems reasonable because the assessment is not supposed to be an assessment of past performance or corporate experience but merely an assessment of whether the companies can work together. It takes only one project to see if a team can gel and work together smoothly, so we believe this change will benefit most small business teams going forward. 

Clearly, GSA is trying to broaden the ability of small businesses (within teaming arrangements) to bid successfully on Polaris and avoid some of the protests and major issues that have hampered CIO-SP4, the now infamous NITAAC procurement that has undergone numerous protests and 16 amendments. Of course, we will not be able to truly see the risks that exist for offerors or to interpret the requirements as a whole until we see the full RFP. If you have any questions regarding the recent Q&A or other Polaris-related questions, please contact Cy Alba